What Every Woman Should Know About HPV

Sexually transmitted diseases aren’t anybody’s favorite topic. Yet, without proper education about the human papillomavirus (HPV), you could find yourself confronted with genital worst, or worse yet, cancer.

The good news is, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

The Association for Women’s Healthcare, with locations in Chicago’s Loop and northern suburbs, offers a full scope of gynecological and obstetrical services. The team here offers comprehensive physical exams, takes thorough medical histories, and conduct diagnostic tests and treatment all in a comfortable and welcoming environment.

The facts

HPV, which includes more than 150 different viruses, is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It affects almost 80 million Americans. Though HPV is the most often spread through vaginal or anal sex, it can also be acquired through oral sex. Once you know the facts, you can clearly see why HPV is so pervasive. It is contagious even when the infected individual has no symptoms. Additionally, infection can take years to appear after exposure.

Most of the time, people who are infected with HPV do not experience symptoms, and therefore don’t even know they have it. However, some do develop genital warts. These typically appear as a bump or bumps in the genital area. They can be large or small, flat or raised, or in some instances, cauliflower-shaped.

HPV can also lead to a number of different types of cancer — often years or decades after exposure. The types of cancers are:

HPV that is contracted via oral sex can also lead to oropharyngeal cancer, which appears at the back of the throat or at the base of the tongue and tonsils.

HPV Testing

HPV will infect most people at some point in their lives. But again, most of the time it goes away on its own. There is no HPV test for men. There is an HPV test for screening women, but it’s typically only recommended for those over age 30. Women should maintain regular screenings and annual Pap smears to check for abnormal cell growth, which could lead to cervical cancer.

Treatment Options

If your Pap smear indicates abnormal cell growth, your doctor may recommend a colposcopy to determine if the particular HPV strain is evidence, creating a greater risk of the cells developing into cervical cancer.

As with a Pap smear, the doctor uses a speculum to open the vagina and then puts a small bit of painless vinegar solution on the cervix to see the abnormal cells. Next, the colposcope is inserted. It is a specialized microscope with a concentrated light, which helps the doctor access the area and collects cells for a biopsy. The specimen is then sent to a lab for testing. Results are ready within two weeks.

Other potential treatments for HPV strains that cause warts or abnormal cells include:

Prevention is the best medicine

The most effective method of prevention — aside from abstinence — is vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend all boys and girls get two HPV vaccine doses at age 11-12 to help protect against HPV-related cancers.

If you weren't vaccinated before your teens, you can receive a catch-up vaccination up to age 21 for boys and men and up to age 26 for girls and women.

You can reduce the risk of becoming infected with HPV by using a latex condom every time during sex. Condoms are not 100% effective, though because some areas are not covered by the condom. Having a mutually monogamous relationship can also reduce — but not eliminate — your risk of contracting HPV..

If you're concerned about HPV, genital warts, or HPV-related cancer, don’t wait. Book an appointment with The Association for Women’s Health Care.

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